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Taking It to the School Board

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By Alison Singh Gee

Present Your Concerns With Panache

Here's how to get your issue on the school board's agenda and present your concerns in an engaging and effective way:

Find out who to contact on the school board. Get your school board's Web site and contact information from your PTA board or the principal's office. In most cases, your district will have specific school board members to contact. PTA presidents generally work with board members and often know who the most helpful people in the school board office are.

Band together.
When researching your issue, find like-minded parents and pool information, talent and resources. More voices often make a bigger impact. Determine the expertise of all parents involved and give them appropriate tasks - a writer mom can pen a persuasive plan of action, an art director dad can give the presentation a professional look and a fundraiser parent can search for possible donors.

Prepare ahead of time. When you meet with your school board member, come prepared with data, research and the best possible solutions. Find out about other schools that have implemented successful programs (or dealt with related problems) and outline the steps that lead to a solution.

Bring material that will help your school board member visualize and remember your issue—handouts, Web links, even a PowerPoint presentation, if you're so inclined. Tightly edit the material and keep the presentation to the point. Most school board members have to juggle their duties with full-time jobs and don't appreciate reams of redundant material.

Place a call to one or more of your district's school board members. If your first call isn't answered, try again. Press for a group meeting at your board member's office or ask to be put on the agenda for a short presentation at an upcoming board meeting.

Track the public appearances of your local school board members. Often board members arrange meet-and-greet sessions throughout the year. Most of these events include time for audience questions. Find out when the next event is, mark your calendar and show up.

Attend a few board meetings to familiarize yourself with the process. Cordially introduce yourself to board members if there is an opportunity to do so. At the end of meetings, most boards allow time for public comments, generally limited to a three-minute presentation of each topic. You can prepare to present your issue at this time.

Stay calm. Your issue may be emotionally charged, but keep your presentation rational and collaborative. Board members respond best to someone who approaches concerns in a positive manner. Using foul language or screaming are definite taboos. Plan to tackle the problem as a team, not as opponents.

Persevere. Follow up after the meeting with a detailed email, listing all points of concern and outlining step-by-step actions toward change. If you think your case is solid, keep calling your school board representative and pushing for a resolution. If the board green-lights your proposal, be prepared to make sure action is taken in a positive and timely way.

Perseverance Brings Results in Los Angeles

Flagging the school board's attention brought positive results for the Los Angeles middle school suffering from gang violence. The district member, along with the rest of the school board, assessed the principal's performance and realized that while she was a compassionate administrator, she didn't have the experience to manage older students. The principal was transferred to an elementary school, and the middle school got a more suitable and seasoned leader.

The moral of the story: If your school has a problem that isn't being addressed, the school board may be your best ally. Just bear in mind that it takes a clear definition of your issue, knowledge of the system, organization and preparation—and a healthy dose of perseverance.

Comments from readers

"Greetings~ I can only begin to understand the challenges that face government schools in our area, state & country. As a parent, what can I do to help? Specifically with what is taught to the children. I understand the value of the 3 R's, the sciences, history, etc. I am just wondering if children are taught the things I wasn't in the 60's that would have better prepared me for life such as: how to balance a checkbook, how and what to save throughout the stages of life, how to read a contract, what does 'interest', setting goals and the like. There wasn't a class like that then, is there now? Thank You"